Monday, November 30, 2009

You can never know too much about survival

The Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook The Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook by Joshua Piven

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
A fun reference with lots of practical advice for survival in various situations. I liked the scope of the book, which ranged from detailed instructions on how to land a plane and cross a river infested with piranhas. It had a fun humor to it as well, with advice on how to ditch a meeting at work and still get credit for being there, how to escape from the trunk of a car, and how to find out the name of someone you wake up next to after drinking too much. All directions were very specific. For example on the how to land a plane section, step 1 was remove the unconscious or dead pilot from the seat.

This is a nice book for my reference collection.

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Saturday, November 28, 2009

The weak U.S. dollar and ebooks equal a good deal for readers outside United States

Over the past month I've noticed an increase in customers for my ebooks from outside the United States. When this happens, I know that the U.S. dollar is weak. When its value dips I often get a little spurt of international buyers for my ebooks. This greater attention from people outside the United States might also be caused by the increased availability of ebook reading devices around the world. This is all a happy combination for me. I know that people from all over the world download the first book in my epic fantasy series The Rys Chronicles, and I'm pleased that some of them choose to come back and buy the rest. And if the weak dollar enables them to do so affordably, that's great.

I checked some of the currency exchanges today (November 28, 2009). If someone bought the complete series of The Rys Chronicles as 4 ebooks, which are a total of $14.85 U.S., here are today's equivalents in other major currencies:

9.92 Euros
9.02 UK Pounds
15.78 Canadian dollars
16.36 Australian dollars

My ebooks are also easy for people in Europe, North America, Australia, and parts of East Asia to buy. My payment processor PayPal handles 18 currencies right now, and I also know that people outside the United States are sometimes disappointed with the ebooks available to them in their countries. Antiquated publishing models with the major publishers usually place territorial restrictions on titles. This makes sense for printed books because each country can be its own market and each title can be licensed to each market, but for digital ebooks, territorial restrictions don't make sense and annoy readers. If someone finds an ebook on the internet and can't buy it because the retailer is honoring publisher-imposed territorial restrictions, it is impossible for the reader to grasp why they aren't allowed to spend money on a product visible on his or her computer screen.

Fortunately, independent authors like me will sell to anyone who can send a payment through PayPal. I hold all rights to my work and I do not have any territorial restrictions on my novels. I'm open for business whether you are in the United States or not.

Fantasy fans everywhere looking for a good read should visit and download for free Union of Renegades.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Why fantasy series drag on and why we keep buying them

The fantasy genre thrives on multiple book series. Readers love getting into an exciting world of magic populated by great characters, and then having multiple novels with which to enjoy the experience. Publishers do a lot of printing to meet this need, but then readers often complain that promising series degenerate into meandering narratives that go no where.

Go to any online forum where fantasy books are being discussed and you will always find threads complaining about fantasy series that have gone awry. As a fantasy novelist, I can attest to how difficult it is to write stories that span multiple novels, but I think the inherent difficulty of novel writing is not entirely to blame for fantasy series dragging on through too many volumes. The business interests of publishers are clearly driving these sprawling McMansion-filled acres of fantasy books.

Admittedly, the whole point of a fantasy series is to create an epic saga, which by definition is long, but long for the sake of long is not the same as telling a really good long story.

The problem of needlessly long and usually boring fantasy series arises from the business of selling books to readers who like series. A publisher makes more money by selling more books. The more books a popular series has to offer, then the more money a publisher will likely make. Therefore, if a fantasy novel takes off with readers, then the publisher will naturally want the author to expand the story into multiple volumes. An obvious example of an over-extended series is the Wheel of Time by the late Robert Jordan. The poor man sadly died before completing what was supposed to be a twelve part epic. I have noticed repeatedly in online forums that many readers complain about the books of this series dragging on without much happening. Although Jordan obviously possessed the talent to capture the interest of many readers with his fiction, I suspect the endless pressure to produce more books eroded his ability to craft well-paced novels filled with action. I believe that publishers, naturally driven by their business interests, undermine an author's ability to create compelling fiction when the goal is to produce as many novels as possible. The problem is quantity over quality.

Even the death of the Robert Jordan has not prevented the Wheel of Time's publisher from continuing the series. Brandon Sanderson, an able fantasy author gaining in popularity, was contracted to produce the conclusion to the series. Now here's a big surprise. The much anticipated conclusion of the Wheel of Time is going to be three volumes!

I don't know that there is any way to correct this problem because readers who like series are inexorably drawn to buy the next installment. Even if he or she was disappointed with the last novel by a favored author, that person will find it hard to resist the next novel because it just might be better and something exciting might happen. Hope is a powerful driver of people's actions. I am in that situation right now with the enormously popular series A Song of Ice and Fire by George R.R. Martin. The first three books of the series were astounding. When I was reading them, I was constantly thinking about the characters and what might happen when the books were not in my hands. That is exactly the experience I am looking for from great fiction. When the fourth book A Feast for Crows came out I pre-ordered it in hardcover and eagerly started reading it as soon as it arrived. To my disappointment though, that book entered an undeniable doldrums. All of my favorite characters were absent and I did not get to find out anything about anything that had been left hanging at the end of the third book. After reading that book, I very much sensed that it was just a bunch of fluff thrown at me to get my money now that I had been hooked on the series. Even so, I will indulge in buying the fifth book, A Dance with Dragons, which illustrates exactly why publishers can make a viable business out of publishing artificially long series just for the sake of selling books. It ceases to be about the story and simply becomes pushing product.

I understand the business forces at play. When a fantasy series takes off, it becomes a recognizable brand, and publishers are not interested in letting a brand come to a timely and glorious end and then risking their capital on developing a new brand around a new story, even if it is from the same author. Publishers appear mostly to play it safe and milk a cash cow series until the skeletal cow drops dead in an over-grazed pasture.

This process is especially vexing for fantasy readers because many of them, like myself, really enjoy reading a good series.

I think the fantasy readers' great love of series is very much inspired by the Lord of the Rings Trilogy. This is the starting place for many fans of fantasy, and the trilogy trains them to love multiple book stories. However, J.R.R. Tolkien wrote his famous trilogy as one story. It has a beginning, middle, and end, and each book contributes to the ultimate goal of the narrative. He did not write The Fellowship of the Ring, have it take off with readers, and then have his publisher say, "Mr. Tolkien, please keep writing these things until no one can stand them anymore or you drop dead."

As a fantasy writer, I personally follow the model of writing a complete story that happens to take multiple volumes. This is risky, but the risk is all mine. I want to tell the story I want to create and not let it be driven (overworked?) by market forces. I hope that eventually the market will reward my efforts as I create fantasy series that actually end and that avoid long drawn out volumes that are basically killing time instead of advancing a story.

Currently, I offer my complete epic fantasy series The Rys Chronicles as four novels. Anyone can start reading it for free by visiting where the first book Union of Renegades is a free ebook download. I am also working on another series, which I am planning to be four novels, that will also be complete instead of never ending when I publish it. I am working on the third novel, and it is terribly difficult for me not to publish the first two because I really like them, but I want to wait until everything is done. Then, when I publish, readers will have a complete series ready to enjoy without interminable waits between novels and pointless volumes meant solely to prey upon readers' cravings for entertainment.

If you are a reader who likes fantasy series, please give mine a try at

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The Kama Sutra by Vatsyayana ebook

When I started reading the famous sex guide from ancient India the Kama Sutra by Vatsyayana, I did not know what to expect. I had always heard that it was about sex positions, but it is so much more than that. Most of the sex positions discussed will be familiar to any sexually active person, but a few left me trying to picture them. After describing the exotic positions, the author would inevitably note that practice was required. This makes sense considering this is the same society that developed yoga, which has positions that often require practice.

Some of the most fascinating chapters in the Kama Sutra discuss the sexual privileges enjoyed by kings of that era. In this excerpt Vatsyayana describes the rights to other wives exercised by the kings of various countries:

But according to the customs of some countries there are facilities for Kings to make love to the wives of other men. Thus in the country of the Andras the newly married daughters of the people thereof enter the King’s harem with some presents on the tenth day of their marriage, and having been enjoyed by the King are then dismissed. In the country of the Vatsagulmas the wives of the chief ministers approach the King at night to serve him. In the country of the Vaidarbhas the beautiful wives of the inhabitants pass a month in the King’s harem under the pretence of affection for the King. In the country of the Aparatakas the people gave their beautiful wives as presents to the ministers and the Kings. And lastly in the country of the Saurashtras the women of the city and the country enter the royal harem for the King’s pleasure either together or separately.

I think that the Kama Sutra is best described as erotic anthropology. The richness and artistry of ancient Hindu society are revealed just as much as the sexual practices. Many rules for wooing lovers are contained in the work because what good is sexual knowledge unless you have someone upon which to practice? Advice on how to use go-betweens in the seduction of another person is abundant and used more liberally than the most complex Shakespearean comedy.

The seemingly constant marital infidelity described in the Kama Sutra reveals the primary sexual problem of traditional cultures. The ancient Hindus, like many other historical societies, valued the virgin bride, but young men had seemingly total freedom to pursue sex outside of marriage. This is often accomplished by having affairs with married women. The Kama Sutra also focuses on the upper levels of society. Men of high class can have sex with peasant women as they please, but they are to use more artifice and charm with women of their own class or of higher classes. This attitude illustrates the accepted inequalities among social classes, as described in this excerpt.

The head man of the village, the King’s officer employed there, and the man whose business it is to glean corn, can gain over female villagers simply by asking them. It is on this account that this class of woman are called unchaste women by voluptuaries.
The union of the above mentioned men with this class of woman takes place on the occasions of unpaid labour, of filling the granaries in their houses, of taking things in and out of the house, of cleaning the houses, of working in the fields, and of purchasing cotton, wool, flax, hemp, and thread, and at the season of the purchase, sale, and exchange of various other articles, as well as at the time of doing various other works. In the same way the superintendents of cow pens enjoy the women in the cow pens; and the officers, who have the superintendence of widows, of the women who are without supporters, and of women who have left their husbands, have sexual intercourse with these women. The intelligent accomplish their object by wandering at night in the village, and while villagers also unite with the wives of their sons, being much alone with them. Lastly the superintendents of markets have a great deal to do with the female villagers at the time of their making purchases in the market.

The Kama Sutra re-animates the world of high class Hindus in ancient times. The sculptures on temple walls and the gardens of long crumbled palaces came alive in my imagination as I read it.